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The Linux Community: Wear Your Hearts On Your Sleeves - page 3

Facing Realities

  • August 30, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris

I once worked at a corporation where deception was a commonly practiced office policy. Odd, but not a whole lot of people work there anymore. Most of the honest people were driven out before the doors closed, and it was a serious mess. The interesting thing was how many of the people working there were simply "used to it." To some of them, not having worked anywhere else, it felt normal to lie and do deceptive things.

I clearly remember having some difficulty moving up the ladder, and going to my boss and asking what the delays in his promises were all about. I did this because I believed in the ability of one human being to communicate with another--it's a fault, as we'll soon see.

I wore my heart on my sleeve. My boss tried to educate me as to why I was having a hard time with the corporate culture by telling me that I was simply going to have to learn to hide my feelings, and learn to deceive just like the rest of them were doing. "Paul, your problem is that you're too honest," was the exact quote.

I can tell you now, laughingly, that I'm proud to have had that said about me. Maybe I wasn't advancing at that corporation, but hey, it's a badge I wear proudly. The thing was, that culture was ultimately destructive, and the long term effect was a downward spiral. No one really truly knew where things were headed and conspiratorial speculation became one of the largest office distractions.

Honesty, in the long run, isn't just the best policy. It turns out it's the only way a group of people can constructively get something of value accomplished.

I can tell you that I and some of the friends I picked up on that journey are truly proud to have walked through the fire and not been burned at all. We learned to trust in the truth and to communicate honestly, regardless of the foolishness of those around us.

I make these points because a lot of people view the truth from a moral standpoint, when in fact it's a logical decision. There's no need for religious points of view here--the practical reasons are enough.

If you're of a mind-set that can put up with deception, you will likely gravitate to a corporate environment that supports that kind of craziness. The burn-out will be fast, and eventually you will likely learn the horrible truth of the matter. You might get lucky and be promoted a few times, and learn it at a later date and time. In any case, the long term effects are bad, as people learn not to trust you and your kind.

It's very much like that for people looking to make product decisions as well. They can gravitate toward vendors that promise the world but deliver solutions that are in effect, cold confining cells. The Linux community doesn't promise the world, but in contrast, delivers much more freedom.

In the long run, the truth shines out. The same is true of the Linux community. The truth will come out, no matter how much mud and FUD get poured on it. The heart of the Linux community, though exposed to everyone, will be its saving grace.

In the long term Linux will plug into things in a way that will prove a stark contrast to proprietary alternatives. It is this faith in the process that we have undertaken that we have to believe in. Ultimately the open source development process is constructive and brings about dependable solutions.

Like any general statement about anything, what I'm saying here isn't the total picture. There are things going on behind the scenes that aren't public items. People don't expose everything. But they do bare an enormous amount more than any corporation that would attempt to do what Linux, Mozilla, Apache, SAMBA, KDE, GNOME or any other developer group has attempted.

My writing is another example of this kind of feedback. I've learned over the course of the past few years that I have to listen to my audience. The talkbacks and the (somewhat) coherent thoughts of the people who respond have made me do more thorough research, and to learn more about things I already thought I knew.

The end result is that I've come to believe in the community and myself much more than I would have had I been acting alone or without feedback. I've come to a point where gray areas matter, opinions matter and where there is no such thing as truth where opinions are concerned. I feel that ultimately it has helped me become a better journalist.

Although at first the knee-jerk reaction is to disagree with someone giving you feedback, in the long run it improves your understanding of software, the community and the fragile thing we all like to believe in as "reality" itself.

The community responds and points out the most subtle problems with my writing. I've learned to find out for myself. I constantly view my work in a blinding light. Misconceptions abound anytime you put forth a point. Some things are one person's opinion. Some things are due to the fact that no one person has experienced the broad spectrum of things that Linux encompasses. Some things are outright "Treasuries of poorly misunderstood ideas".

But some things written to me are beyond stupid, but to a person who doesn't know, they sound like the truth. These last things are rare, and oddly enough, the people who write them never respond no matter how polite I am about asking why they believe in this or that misconception. The email addresses are always from some untraceable account.

I've learned that the truth, like an insecticide, squashes the bugs and has made me understand Linux and Open Source products even more thoroughly than ever before. It has made me question every facet of my writing, and to be a better journalist. It has made me write with clearer intent, and to state facts as they are and label opinion clearly as such.

Like the Open Source community--I have been improved by the truth.

I urge you all to be the same. If it ain't so--say it ain't so. Don't let the lies lie. Don't become anything like the alternative, because ultimately, it isn't where we're headed, and it's not worth it--no matter how cool "world domination" sounds, we need to do it with the truth in hand. The alternative--we've already seen it. Let's not even think of being like them. No matter what kind of short-term gain seems feasible, the long term effects are far more painful.

The public-feedback mechanisms that build Open Source software are inefficient at times. They can get in the way, so to speak, in the short term. People working in closed development environments can likely concentrate more on their own personal goals for a project, without the worry and overhead brought on by having to deal with a loud and rowdy crowd of culturally diverse co-workers--all who want a vote or say in the direction of a project.

Ultimately, the long term effects of this kind of corporate inbreeding make weaker products that sometimes arrive too late or too off-target to even be salable items in the intended marketplace. Look at Windows 2000 as a web server--too big, too late, too expensive, too off target. It's not a choice for anybody but the most Microsoft faithful or (in my opinion) the most uninformed of customers.

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